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Memory Techniques: Mnemonic Devices

Updated on July 27, 2012
Think About Memory Techniques
Think About Memory Techniques | Source

What is a Mnemonic?

A mnemonic device is a method for memorizing information in a way that makes it easier to remember that information. Often called mnemonics, these memory tricks are used in school for memorizing lists such as the planets in the solar system or the colors of the rainbow. However, they can be used in everyday life to help you remember information.

Mnemonics can be created in many forms. Some of the most common are acronyms, phrases, songs, or rhymes. They are often used for schoolwork, and even foreign language acquisition.

Solar System Mnemonics
Solar System Mnemonics | Source

Mnemonic Examples

Mnemonics are often used in school to help students remember a list or a group of items. Above all else, mnemonics must be easy! They are easy usually because they are either associated with something common, or they are unusual enough to be memorable. Here are some popular examples.

The planets of the solar system are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. There are many mnemonics to memorize these in order, such as

  • My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles
  • Many Violet Eggs Must Jump Slowly Upon Newspapers

The colors of the rainbow are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. The most common mnemonic used to remember these is an acronym made from the first letter of each color: Roy G Biv.

The musical notes written on lines in the treble clef of sheet music are E, G, B, D, and F. This is sometimes learned with the sentence "Every Good Boy Does Fine." The notes written in the spaces of the treble clef are F, A, C, and E, which are often taught with the acronym "FACE."

Mnemonic Wizards!

Build Your Memory
Build Your Memory | Source

How To Create Mnemonics

The most important thing to consider when creating mnemonic devices is that they must be easy to remember. Several studies have shown that the human memory is limited to only a few items, so grouping items into larger categories such as with a mnemonic aids us in holding more information in our short term memory. This makes it easier to move this information into long term memory.

Acronyms such as "Roy G Biv" for the colors of the rainbow are a common mnemonic device. With an acronym, it helps if it forms a word or can at least be spoken out loud instead of just a group of letters. For example, if you need to memorize a series of numbers such as an address, you may be able to make an acronym out of them. For this address

3893 Apple Street

You could use the number words "three," "eight," "nine," "three" as an acronym using the first letters, or "TENT".

Then, to remember the street name, picture an apple sitting on or in a tent. Your funny image and phrase ("Tent Apple") will help you remember the address!

If you have a group of words to memorize that don't fit well into an acronym, a song, phrase, or rhyme usually work best, as with the planets. For example, let's say you need to memorize the grocery list below:

eggs, bread, milk, ketchup, peas

Those don't fit well into an acronym, so you can come up with a phrase using the first letters of the items, like this:

Every Man Buys King Penguins

That's a silly phrase, but it's memorable! Mentally imagine a man in a checkout line with a penguin. Or, if this doesn't work for you, try a silly rhyme with the actual items from the grocery list, like this:

Egg's on the Bread box, Milk's on the table. Put Ketchup on your Peas if you're able.

There's your shopping list!

Mnemonic Dictionary

There are several mnemonic lists and dictionaries online where you can find commonly used mnemonic devices. Even if you don't use these specific mnemonics, they can provide ides for how to create your own!

A Fun Mnemonic for Naming the US Presidents!


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    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Alliemacb - It's amazing how long mnemonics stay with us, isn't it!

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Marcy - I like the closet idea with Roy G Biv!

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Thanks, donnah75! I will check it out!

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

      This is so useful. Like Marcy, I still use Roy G Biv. I haven't done chemistry since high school (a very long time ago) but I still remember some of the mnemonics our teacher taught us. I will pass this on to my students. Voted up!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      I could have used this tip earlier today - I went to the store chanting about what I needed, got part of it as well as bunch of stuff I really didn't need. And forgot one of the main reasons I went. By the way, I still use Roy G Biv (I try to hang my tops in that order, just to have a system). And of course, who can forget Every Good Boy Does Fine, All Cows Eat Grass, etc!

      Voted up and up!

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great discussion. I will have to check out your links. I use this technique to teach good writing. I wrote a hub about it. I tell my students to PEE down their page. Check it out. Voted up!